Norwood (1943)

1943 Norwood Report (text)

The Norwood Report (1943)
Curriculum and Examinations in Secondary Schools

Report of the Committee of the Secondary School Examinations Council appointed by the President of the Board of Education in 1941

London: HM Stationery Office 1943

Background notes

Historical context

As the second world war raged around Europe, Churchill's coalition government was planning a new education system for post-war Britain. The 1943 white paper Educational Reconstruction set out the arrangements which were subsequently enacted in the 1944 Education Act.

As part of the planning, a Committee of the Secondary School Examinations Council was appointed by RAB Butler, President of the Board of Education, in October 1941:

To consider suggested changes in the Secondary School curriculum and the question of School Examinations in relation thereto.
The chair of the Committee was Sir Cyril Norwood (1875-1956), who had been Headmaster of Bristol Grammar School (1906-16), Master of Marlborough College (1917-25), and Headmaster of Harrow (1926-34). At the time of the report, he was President of St John's College Oxford and chair of the Secondary School Examinations Council. Gary McCulloch (see note below) has described him as 'one of the most prominent and influential English educators of the past century'.

The twelve members of the Committee - who included Sir Percival Sharp, Secretary of the Association of Education Committees - met 25 times and submitted their report to Butler on 23 June 1943. They argued that children could be divided into three groups:

  • the academically-minded would be provided for in grammar schools;
  • the scientifically-minded would go to technical schools;
  • the rest would go to secondary modern schools.
The 1944 Act did not require this division of children into separate schools, but the 'tripartite' system was, nonetheless, created - except that it was never really tripartite: technical schools were expensive so few of them were ever opened. The provision of secondary education in England was thus divided between grammar schools (for the minority of children who passed the eleven plus selection test) and secondary modern schools (for the majority who didn't).

Although Norwood urged 'parity' between the different types of school, in practice the secondary modern schools were very much the poor relation of the grammar schools and it wasn't long before this became a cause for widespread public concern. The Central Advisory Council for Education was asked to investigate and the result was the 1963 Newsom Report Half our Future, which reviewed the education of 13-16 year olds of average and less than average ability.

For more on Cyril Norwood, see Gary McCulloch's Cyril Norwood and the Ideal of Secondary Education published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2007.

Summary of the report's main recommendations

  • the definition of 'secondary education' should be enlarged to embrace three broad types of education - the grammar school, the technical school and the secondary modern school - which should be accorded 'all the parity which amenities and conditions can bestow';
  • in suitable circumstances secondary schools of different types should be combined;
  • transfer between schools should be as easy as possible;
  • differentiation of pupils should be made on the basis of primary school teachers' judgement, supplemented if desired by 'intelligence' and 'performance' tests (the 'eleven plus'), with due consideration given to the parents' and pupils' wishes;
  • the curriculum for 11 to 13 year olds should be roughly common to all schools and transfers between schools should take place as desirable during this period;
  • all pupils up to the age of 18+ should be in either full-time or part-time education;
  • the School Certificate Examination should become an internal examination, conducted by the teachers on syllabuses and papers framed by themselves;
  • for a transitional period of seven years the examination should continue to be carried out by existing University Examining Bodies with teacher representation, and pupils should choose which subjects they wish to take;
  • a School Leaving Examination for pupils of 18+ should be conducted twice yearly to meet the requirements of university entrance etc;
  • the present Higher School Certificate Examination should be abolished and State and Local Education Authority scholarships should be awarded on a different basis;
  • students gaining college scholarships at Oxford or Cambridge or university scholarships elsewhere should receive assistance with living costs from public funds;
  • the proposals regarding examinations at 18+ and the examinations for State and Local Education Authority awards should be put into operation as soon as possible;
  • the Inspectorate should be increased in numbers and, as far as possible, be relieved of purely administrative work;
  • the keeping of school records from the primary stage to the end of the school course should be made the subject of immediate investigation and research;
  • the Board of Education should establish machinery for encouraging researches into educational problems and should collate and publish their results.
The Committee also expressed the hope that the Civil Service Commissioners, the service colleges, the medical schools and the universities would all 'fit in with the suggested reorganisation of examinations'.

The report online

The full text of the report, from the 1944 reprint, is presented in a single web page.

I have modernised some of the punctuation, updated a handful of spellings, corrected a few misprints, and added a few explanatory notes. Anything I have added is shown [in square brackets].

The text is displayed with its original capitalisation which, by today's standards, is excessive and often inconsistent.

Unlike other reports of the time, Norwood did not have numbered paragraphs.

The above notes were prepared by Derek Gillard and uploaded on 10 June 2007; they were revised on 12 November 2012.